The best treats for a parakeet

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It’s natural to want to give your parakeets treats, the same way you would a dog or cat. But, they are quite different animals, and there certainly aren’t as many treats on the market for a parakeet as there are for a mammal pet.  I frequently see people mention the Honey Bird Treat Sticks as a popular treat – with some folks even giving their parakeets a stick every week. There isn’t anything wrong with those treats, per se, but I don’t think they are the best treats for a parakeet.

Parakeets can certainly eat honey, but they really shouldn’t have a lot. Even sugary fruits have to be limited, so a real sugar like honey should be a rare treat indeed.  Also, if your parakeets really get hooked on the honey treats they can start rejecting normal seed and demand sugary treats all the time.  Maintaining a healthy budgie weight is critical to long-term good health, and trying to break a parakeet of a sugar habit would be a frustrating nightmare!

Honey can be very useful to help perk up an ailing parakeet and get the some extra energy and calories to burn. I think that honey should be reserved for an emergency treat, you could even keep a Honey Straw or two in your parakeet’s first aid kit.

If, like me, you don’t want to introduce honey as a regular menu item here are some other ideas for the times you want to spoil your parakeets a little bit.

    • No treat list would be complete (or accurate!) if it didn’t include Millet. Spray millet is almost universally regarded by parakeets as the ultimate in pleasure food. If your new parakeet doesn’t realize yet this is his favorite food he will soon. Millet doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value to it so it really should just be used as a treat. I know there are a lot of Miller Spray Holders on the market so you can put a whole spray of millet in the cage with the parakeets, but I don’t recommend going that route. I think that if millet always comes from the humans it’s a much more powerful bonding and training tool.  Also millet readily available in the cage is the equivalent of me having a limitless bag of Doritos in my cube at work, no good would come of that for my health and I don’t think that unlimited millet will do your parakeets any health favors either.
    • Vegetables and occasional fruits. I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m crazy because your parakeets currently won’t even look at a slice of cucumber without having a panic attack, or ignore it completely. And I’m telling you (virtually guaranteeing) that if you are persistent and keep offering the good stuff multiple times a week in a variety of different ways and/or mixed with seed and millet you will eventually wear them down and have a pack of veggie-lovers! The absolute key is persistence.  You can’t say after a month of trying that they hate vegetables because that is not long enough. These little guys can be more stubborn and fearful than one could possibly imagine.
    • New toys and perches. The great thing is that even though we might all joke around about “spoiling” our parakeets it really can’t be done! They need new toys and different perches regularly to keep their brains active and bodies exercised.  So, if you were going to spend $4 on honey treats, why not spend it on the JW Pet Company Activitoy Lattice Chain Small Bird Toy instead?  I’ve had that toy rotating in and out of cages for the past 2 years, which is comparably a really great value!  I’ll put links at the end of this post to a few inexpensive and awesome toys.
    • Your time and attention. Really the best treat of all. Even if you’re still in the taming process and they can barely tolerate the sight of you, sit by their cage for 15 minutes and sing them a song. Every day when I get home from work my first instincts are to start tidying up the house, make the parakeets a snack and generally get on with the million and one things I have to do. But, I make it a point to make eye contact and greet them, let them out of their cages, and stay put. For as long as they are interested in jumping on my head, screaming in my ear, or chewing on the seams of my shirt, I chill out and just hang. Sometimes I talk to them about my day or theirs, and sometimes we are quiet together. Thinking about it now, even though it can feel painful to slow it down and stop being productive, it’s one of the best things I do both for the parakeets and for me.

I’m sure there are a million other ways to treat your ‘keet, but that’s my shortlist of relatively healthy and inexpensive (or free!) best treats for a parakeet.

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Parakeet ladies living single – not trying to make female parakeets cohabitate

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It’s been a while since Toby and Kelly split households and things have been going amazingly well. I hadn’t realized how much stress we were all enduring every day trying to make two territorial female parakeets live together. The constant screeching battles over perch height, food bowls, and everything else in their cage were, in retrospect, absolutely not worth the few moments every day that they would preen each other and be sweet.

The biggest positive change has been in Toby. She has been in a fantastic mood ever since she got her own space back.  She’s back to her old self, wanting scritches through the cage bars and being so excited to greet the day.  Even though she’s still stuck in her Prevue Park Plaza Bird Cage which is totally the wrong size for a parakeet (being an 18″ square that’s too tall and too low to the ground).  I ordered her a cage to match Kelly’s, the HQ Victorian Top, from Drs Foster & Smith, but it has been back-ordered for ages, and the delivery date keeps getting pushed back.

Fortunately there’s not a lot of urgency about it, she is happy as a clam in her little space, and so glad to move around without someone following her every moment of the day. As soon as they are both out she’ll go hang in the big cage, but we don’t have much trouble getting her back into the Prevue at the end of the day, although it usually involves some Millet and some Clicker Training . The bonus on that is that the nightly clicker training is helping her focus, and she’s overall much calmer and very well-behaved. Even though it’s just a few minutes a day, it has a HUGE impact on her demeanor, she’s more willing to sit on a finger or shoulder for a longer amount of time. I suppose part of that could be that she’s becoming a mature lady parakeet, but it really seems more due to both getting a good night’s sleep every night and the clicker training.

Kelly is always a bit of a cranky girl, so she hasn’t changed that much. But, I do know that she’s getting a solid night’s sleep more often.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will get her out of breeding condition at some point.

I asked Patrick what he thought the biggest positive change has been for Kelly and he pointed out that she plays a lot more when she’s alone in the cage. When she and Toby were together Kelly would follow her around all the time and ruin both their fun, now that she’s not obsessing over Toby 24/7 she’s got a lot more time to enjoy her toys.

Toby and Kelly are still allowed out together and have fun during those times. They choose to sit near one another and spend some time grooming, but do fight over everything. We can’t leave their food dishes in their cages while they are out or they will both go in one cage and fight over food!  So, both bowls go on top of Toby’s cage and we minimize the battles.

I continue to think that Kelly is missing out on having company, and that if Toby wasn’t such an independent lady they would have been perfectly fine together. So, I’m wearing Patrick down on the idea of introducing a male parakeet who might bond with Kelly and be the best pal she seems to want. Hopefully after his quarantine he would be able to move in with Kelly so I wouldn’t end up having three cages to maintain!  In the interim, I’m glad that having our female parakeets live solo is working out so well for all of us.

female parakeets

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Sharing human food with parakeets

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I was at our favorite pet store recently and met a relatively new parakeet owner who asked “do your parakeets eat human food?” Thinking  I knew what she meant I said “YES” and prepared to brag about how Toby and Kelly love so many different kinds of fruits and vegetables, although it certainly took some doing to get to that point. Before I could get the words out she followed with, “because we’ve tried to get ours to eat Saltine Crackers and Potato Chips and she is just not interested at all”.

By the time I had gotten over my surprise about the direction the question took we had moved on to something else. So, I regret that I didn’t get the chance to tell her that salt is not great for budgies, and that while the occasional nibble of a cracker or chip won’t strike them dead, it’s not good for them and they don’t need it, even as a “treat”.

My husband and I have been strict from the start about not sharing food for human consumption with the budgies, especially from our own plates. If I’m preparing a salad I put aside items that I know they will like, but they are never fed at the same time as we are, and I always make a show of prepping their food on their plates. This reinforces that their food is different from ours, even if it’s technically okay for them to eat, and that they shouldn’t expect to sneak treats from our plates.

It might be tempting and seem cute to share your food with your budgies, I know we want to share all of our lives with them and give them loads of enrichment and spoiling. But aside from salt there are a ton of things that we eat that they don’t need or are intolerant of. In my opinion the more they can avoid processed human foods the better.

Also, if you make a habit of allowing them to eat “safe” foods from your plate you may be sending a strong message that your food is fair game. And beyond the potential annoyance of fighting with your budgie every time you want a snack because she doesn’t understand she can’t have cheese; you could end up with a very sick bird.

Another good reason to keep parakeets away from your plates and cups is the potential ahem fallout. As we know, parakeets poop pretty often (as frequently as every 5-10 minutes). Although seasoned parakeets parents have typically gotten over any issues they may have had about dealing with the nice and tidy parakeet poops, I’m going to assume that no one really wants to ingest them. So, outside of parakeet health, that’s a pretty compelling reason to keep mealtimes separate and otherwise let your parakeets know that they are not welcome to dine directly from your dinner plate.

This can be a bit more difficult with Drinking Glasses and Coffee Mugs, but it is very important that your parakeets do not drink sugary or caffeinated beverages. We sometimes still struggle with making sure the parakeets aren’t interested in our Saturday morning coffee. I usually hide mine under an overhanging kitchen cabinet and take sips while they aren’t paying attention!

I’ve seen several “cute” videos of parakeets having water out of human Drinking Glasses and it always makes me cringe. Parakeets can’t swim, if they lose their balance on a cup’s edge and tip in head first they will likely drown if no one pulls them out. So, although it may be cute when your parakeet does it while you are present and providing supervision, it could be devastating if you have a glass of water out and leave the room for a few minutes.

Sidebar: I feel like I’m coming perilously close to shaming people in this post and that’s really not my intent. If your parakeet has died in such an incident I don’t want you to feel guilty or beat yourself up over it – these things can happen to anyone. I’m thinking about it now and I know I have a glass of water in my kitchen sink that someone could easily drown in. Toby and Kelly have never gone in the sink but goodness knows they surprise me every day! So, no one’s perfect, and even when we know all the right things to do something is still going to slip through the cracks.

Anyway, much like food-sharing we have the twin issues that many of our beverages are bad for them to begin with, and we additionally don’t want to drink poop.

Patrick and I switched to bottled water for a number of reasons shortly after getting parakeets, one of those reasons was to protect our clean drinking sources from parakeets.  But it’s hard to feel good about burning through tons of plastic bottles, even if they are being recycled.  Also – water just doesn’t taste that great in plastic.  So, I recently got these Glass Water Bottles which are our new favorite thing!  Not only are they poop-safe, but we’re saving a ton on buying water bottles every week, water tastes great in them, and they stay colder longer out of the refrigerator.

Bottom line stuff is do the best you can to keep your parakeets out of your people food and beverages and I think you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle/potential heartache. Also, you’ll avoid eating and drinking parakeet poop, which is pretty indisputably a good life goal.

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Clipping a parakeet’s nails – an exercise in futility?

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In this household we’ve tended to subscribe to the theory that a parakeet with an adequate variety of properly-surfaced perches should not need any human intervention with keeping their nails trimmed. Recently we’ve taken notice that Toby and Kelly have lost interest in their own nail maintenance, and it might be time to face the specter of clipping a parakeet’s nails.

When I was putting together our first aid kit for the parakeets I included a set of Nail Clippers Scissors, they can be used for any small animal , but birds are on the list, and it does seem like it would be easier to clip with that than a traditional human nail clipper.  I also did my due diligence research on how to towel a small bird to keep it still, and to make sure never to cut too high up on the nail because you can hit the blood vessel.  If you do hit the blood vessel you want to have Styptic Powder or at least Corn Starch on hand to help stop the bleeding. Parakeets can bleed out pretty quickly, so getting a handle on any bleeding is important.

So, theoretically it seems possible to trim their nails, if not like a great time. Over the past year I’ve gone through phases of trying to get them comfortable with the appearance of the scissors so they aren’t a scary item, and they are always intrigued by them instead of frightened.  This may sound crazy but we’ve also periodically made a big show of clipping our own nails in front of them and filing our nails. The parakeets always get very excited by this process and are eager to jump onto our hands and inspect what we are doing.

Of course this didn’t translate at all to our cutting their nails, and every time we approach them with the nail scissors they act like we have lost our minds. Seriously, they are not even scared they are deeply offended and completely unwilling.

Patrick was very sneaky one day and managed to trim a single nail of Kelly’s by distracting her while she was perching and putting the scissors up behind her. That’s really the sort of trick you only get to use once before they are wise to it!

This past weekend we decided to give it a real try. I got out a cloth napkin and we managed to gently burrito Kelly in it; we did also try for Toby but that was not happening. Although Toby and Kelly like us and consider us part of their flock, they aren’t particularly tame. We don’t really try to teach them any “tricks” and they are not the kind of parakeets to enjoy a snuggle.

At any rate, we had our little Kelly burrito and the nail scissors, but she was wriggling like a fish, her tiny feet were bicycling like mad and to top it all off since we were acting on the spur of the moment, Toby was trying to jump on Kelly’s head to figure out what the heck was going on.

It was a total disaster. There was no way to safely cut anything in the midst of all that ridiculousness and we let Kelly go in short order. I know this is horrid but we haven’t tried again. Thus far they can still walk properly on flat surfaces and they aren’t getting stuck in any toys or on our clothing. We are keeping a close eye on the situation, but I think we’re going to continue with the wait and see, and hope that they pick up the ball again on their own nail maintenance!

we see the scissors and we are not afraid!

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Best toys for parakeets/budgies

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With so many toys out there in the marketplace it can be tough to choose for your budgies. I know I’ve made tons of mistakes buying toys that were way too big, or worse, dangerous. It can be difficult to look at pictures on the internet and know what to buy for mental and physical stimulation. Here are Toby and Kelly’s recommendations for best toys for parakeets, all of them are either currently in their cages or were and were so well-loved they no longer exist!

  • Super Bird Creations Wind Chimes Toy for Birds – Toby and Kelly love this toy so much I’ve already written not one, but two reviews of it!  They can be found here and here. This toy can be played with in multiple ways, preening, chewing, attacking, moving the straw “arms” and it has several levels. If installed with a perch midway down the parakeets can burrow into the center of the straws (where there is a bell to reward them!), and the ends of the straws with their shoelace ties provide a totally different play opportunity.  Toby and Kelly also enjoy launching themselves at it and clinging to the red ball at the top.

  • Bonka Bird Toys 1925 Cake Bird Toy – this toy is, without a doubt, Kelly’s favorite toy of all time. The problem is that she destroys is in a single day! This has happened on to occasions, the first of which I recorded in a review.  It’s still fun to play with after the destruction of the sola wood, the cupcake liners are totally a toy in their own right, but I mostly recommend buying this toy for special occasions like hatch days or gotcha days.
  • JW Pet Company Activitoys The Wave Bird Toy – These relatively inexpensive plastic toys made by JW Pet Company are some of Toby and Kelly’s favorites, and this is one of them.  I avoided buying them anything with a mirror for a long time. I was worried, especially when Toby was a solo parakeet, that she would end up in a feedback loop with her own reflection and never think to eat or get a drink of water.  I think that’s less of a concern with these small round mirrors, they may catch an intriguing glance of “another” parakeet in the mirror, but it’s not enough to start trying to interact with. The mirrors also rotate and there are fun little beads to chew and the whole thing is light enough that they can grab it and bang it on something else, which is always a good time!  You could also hang something else from the bottom if you wanted a very long toy. Kelly saw herself in a mirror for the first time in this toy, I managed to get a very cute video (unfortunately this was before I learned to take all videos “side to side so the margins are wide” I apologize!).
  • Wesco Pet Original Bird Kabob Shreddable Bird Toy – Deceptively simply in its design this toy provides days and days of shredding fun. Chewing is extremely important for parakeets beak health and mental health. They are born and designed to chew and destroy. These are made of a soft wood, but still take a lot of work to get through, versus something like the bonka 1925, which is very quickly shredded. They come strung on a rope that can be untied if you want to add one of the “donuts” of wood to another toy or put them on a metal skewer instead.  Toby and Kelly’s interest in this toy waxes and wanes, but there’s always a Wesco Shreddable Bird Toy of some sort available to them.
  • JW Pet Company Activitoy Olympia Rings Small Bird Toy – This is another one of our favorite inexpensive JW plastic toys. I think I bought this back in 2005 and it’s always been in a cage or on the play gyms.  It’s a classic and a must have, and another toy that can be played with in a few different ways. Toby likes to grab the bell at the bottom and shake it vigorously, or climb from the bottom to the top.  She also will grab one of the rings and use it to stabilize her foot while she grooms herself. Kelly, on the other hand, likes to go through the rings over and over again in some very “Olympic” gymnastics!  At first I was worried she would get stuck but it seems like they are the perfect size for such antics. This toy is also really easy to clean up, a huge plus for something that’s going to be around for several years.
  • This last toy is a bit of a toy/perch hybrid, the Super Bird Creations Mini Flying Trapeze Toy for Birds. But with so much going on I think it has earned it’s way onto our top six toys! There is sea grass to rip apart, plastic links to climb and chew, and these great tiny plastic toys to reach for and try to destroy as well. My only caveat is I would not give this to female birds in breeding condition, as they may regard it as a possible nesting space. Also since it’s got a rather large footprint they can get very territorial about it and we’ve had some associated squabbles.

There you have it, Toby and Kelly’s recommended best toys for parakeets. They have all been “road tested” in our home and I feel comfortable guaranteeing that even if they aren’t your parakeet’s favorites they are at least appropriately-sized and safe for your budgies. I’d love to hear some of your favorites, please leave a comment!

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Using a professional pet sitter for parakeets

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Regular readers know that over the winter I researched local pet sitting services, interviewed a sitter and hired her for our summer vacation. I had a great feeling about her at the time, but leading up to our trip I got increasingly anxious about leaving Toby and Kelly with someone totally untested. It didn’t help that I kept seeing horror stories of people leaving their parakeets in the care of close family members and coming back from weeklong trips to find them near death or worse.

I worked myself into a pretty good state over the whole thing. Particularly after all the chaos of them staying at my mom’s for a few days and then having to separate Toby and Kelly into two cages after their bad fight that left Kelly with a bloody foot. I updated the pet sitter that they shouldn’t be out at the same time – to me, this stacked the deck even further against her. How would a woman who had limited experience with birds in the first place handle letting them out one at a time and getting them back into their proper cages?

It got to a point that I think I would have canceled the whole trip if I’d had the foresight to purchase travel insurance! No such coverage existed and off we went, but only after I harassed the pet sitter several times in the week leading up to vacation to confirm all the details. I even made an agreement with a colleague that she would get into my house somehow if I couldn’t verify that the sitter was taking care of the parakeets.

The first day of vacation I checked on the parakeets several times using my Misafes security camera, they were fine all day of course but I only made it until about 4pm before breaking down and asking the pet sitter how it went via text. She related that they had both had some time out of the cage, Kelly was very easy to get back in, and Toby was harder but very sweet and sat on her shoulder.

Huge sigh of relief, the details were precisely what I would have expected from my girls and it made me feel relieved that the pet sitter had actually been there and that the parakeets were being taken well care of, not just having food and water changed and being ignored.

I didn’t text the pet sitter every day after that (just a few more haha), but I did spy her a couple of times on the Misafes security camera. I never watched long because that would seem a bit creepy to me, but every time I saw her she was taking care of the parakeets and seemed totally engaged in what was going on with them.

The trust that she was building with me helped me enjoy the rest of our vacation with only minimal concerns about the parakeets physical and mental well-being, but on the flight home everything started creeping back in. I wondered what condition I would find the cages in, whether the parakeet’s perches would be covered in poop, or if our Bird Cage Liners had been removed every couple of days.

We opened the front door and what I saw absolutely astonished me. Not only were the cages scrupulously clean, as though I had been at home the whole time following my cleaning schedule, but she left a detailed checklist showing what maintenance had been done each day, and the coup de grâce was a short note written every single day with any notable information about how they had behaved and/or particularly adorable moments.

Now, given the choice between the two I would still love to have the pet sitting service my mom typically provides, not only does she spend hours of time at my house waiting for the parakeets to tire out but she’s also an extremely economical choice (read: free). For the times I can’t “hire” my mom, hiring the professional pet sitter was the best decision I ever made and I would strongly encourage anyone to do their research and utilize a professional pet sitting service over leaving the care of your parakeets to neighbors, friends, or in some cases, even relatives.

And, not to be totally grim, but if something had gone terribly wrong it’s much more comfortable to be devastated by something a professional did and be able to file a complaint and never utilize their services again, instead of having to see the person who you blame for the death of your birds every year at Thanksgiving.

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The parakeets break up and separate households

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In my post about parakeet girl fights I acknowledged that keeping two territorial females together was taking a risk. At that time, the reward of Kelly and Toby having each other for comfort and company in the same cage was worth the risk of injury from their frequent squabbles over toys and space. Well, my hubris caught up with me on this one and they are currently trying out living solo.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of upheaval for the budgies, I was away on business, and working late hours leading up to that, we made some major changes to the arrangement of our house and then they had to move to my mom’s house for a few days and the travel and change of scenery were very stressful for them.  Additionally, Kelly seems to be getting deeper into breeding condition versus moving out of it, we’ve been missing bed times lately and I’m sure that hasn’t helped.

I should also mention that Patrick and I been extremely stressed out lately, and I firmly believe that they know how we are feeling and it influences their behavior. Whether it’s true they can see our energy or not, or whether they can read facial expressions and body language, I know they are hip to what is going on with their humans.

So, overall they have been ramping up the violence while everything is in chaos around them, and I cannot blame them. I’m typically very rigid about my routine, it’s what makes me happy every day, and they are obviously  used to it as well.

The day before they went to my mom’s Kelly shredded one of Toby’s flight feathers, Toby was defending the porch on their cage and pushing Kelly towards the edge, so Kelly grabbed onto Toby’s feathers to try and pull herself back up. I was there and broke up the fight before major damage was done, but Toby’s feather has a bit of a different shape now.

This all leads up to the final straw fight – I got home from work one day and immediately noticed Kelly’s feathers on the floor. She’s not molting so that was a red flag, and the pattern of the feathers was wrong for that anyway, they were clumped together and as soon as I picked them up I realized they had been pulled out of her. I felt a pit in my stomach as I started examining the cage and the budgies for blood or other signs of damage.

Toby was all clear, but Kelly had dried blood on her foot and a cut. Thankfully it wasn’t actively bleeding so I didn’t have to worry about her bleeding to death, but it came as a sad shock that they had really hurt each other.

I let them out of the cage so that I could try to clean Kelly up a bit and make sure she was really okay, they continued going after each other and fighting, even after they had the entire house at their disposal.

With vacation coming up in just 3 days (thanks for that timing, babies) I knew that they needed to be in separate cages, at least while we were away. There was no way I could trust them to be together 24/7 without someone just coming in once a day to feed and water them. Not to mention how bad I would feel for the pet sitter if she came in to a blood bath and had to deal either with emergency medical needs due to injuries or worst case scenario, a body and a murderer.

Fortunately I had Toby’s old cage in the garage, so I pulled that out and spent the next couple of hours washing it down several times and stocking it with toys and perches. I now have justification for my excessive toy and perch hoard, since I had more than enough on hand to rig out an entire cage!

I moved Kelly into the Prevue Park Plaza since she had lived in it most recently during her quarantine last summer, but she did not tolerate the space. It’s not ideal for parakeets since it’s an 18” square but quite tall. She must feel very cramped and panicky in there because she just runs back and forth on the bottom looking for a way out.

Almost immediately I knew that wasn’t going to work out, but leaving her there to see if she would mellow out, Patrick and I went off to Petsmart to see if I could find a better option for her. They didn’t have any cages that I liked well enough to invest the money, unfortunately.

While we were still at Petsmart I checked our MiSafes Security Camera feed and I could see on our security camera app that even though it was night time dark, there was a white shape running rapidly along the floor off the cage, so before we even got home I had decided they were just going to have to sleep together that night and I would try Toby in the Prevue Park Plaza the next day.

Once we got home we let them out for a few minutes to try and get Kelly settled down and then moved her back to the big cage with Toby. There was some squabbling before bed, but nothing out of line, thank goodness.

The next morning I lured Toby into the Prevue Park Plaza and shut her in, crossing my fingers that she wouldn’t start freaking out like Kelly!  She lived in this cage the first 7 months we had her, so there was a good chance she would accept it, even if it wasn’t ideal.

While she seemed confused about what was going on she settled in pretty quickly and I breathed a sigh of relief. Before we go away I still need to make some modifications so they both have enough perches and enough to do, but it is a HUGE relief that I don’t have to worry about them killing each other while we are gone.

As far as a long term plan – once we come back from vacation I want to keep them separated for another week or so until we get back into a routine and everything is finally calmed down and on their schedule. They can still be out for flight time together so that’s a bonus and they will get socialization time then.  Once we feel comfortable we will try having them live together again and see if their time apart hit a reset button, as I’ve read that it can.

If not then they can continue living separately, as much as I don’t want to maintain two cages. Alternately we might consider adding in a male parakeet to try and break up the tension. As much as Toby and Kelly occasionally like each other, Toby more bonded to me at present, and Kelly really hasn’t bonded to anyone. My theory is that if she had a bond with someone it might take her aggression down a notch, but experts can feel free to weigh in and tell me I’m dreaming!

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